Southern Baptist churches, entities and leaders will continue to receive guidance in the year ahead from a convention partnership leading the fight against sexual abuse.
The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG) and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released Nov. 11 the priorities for the next year in the effort to prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors. The document outlines the resources the partners will make available in a multi-faceted endeavor that began more than two years ago in response to reports of abuse among Southern Baptist churches and entities.
“We recognize the need for a widespread change and understand that a cultural shift takes years of effort,” the SAAG and ERLC say in the new document. “We will continue to raise awareness and to train to help churches embrace the findings of the SAAG and the resources provided to help them be safe for survivors and safe from abuse.”
ERLC President Russell Moore said, “When it comes to the moral witness of the people of Jesus Christ, there should be no greater priority than standing up to the depravity of sexual abuse within the church. The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group is committed to calling churches to integrity on these matters and equipping churches on how best to do so.”
The group’s agenda “includes helping churches both to build cultures and policies that prevent sexual abuse and to make churches safe for survivors,” he said in written comments.
The priorities cited by the SAAG and ERLC include the:
- Ongoing promotion to churches of the Caring Well Challenge, a year-long, eight-step effort that began in 2019. In its first year, more than 1,000 churches participated in the challenge, which was relaunched in September.
- Development of new resources, including guides on recruiting Vacation Bible School workers and camp counselors, as well as updated versions of instructions on reporting abuse and responding to disclosures of abuse.
- Advocacy at the federal and state government level for laws and regulations that will safeguard children and hold perpetrators accountable.
- A series of “white papers” on state policy issues, including mandatory reporting and statute of limitations. The first white paper, which was published Oct. 30, offers guidance on enacting state laws to protect churches and other nonprofits from civil liability when they report sexual abuse allegations to a former employee’s current or potential employer.
- Continued availability of videos from the ERLC’s 2019 Caring Well Conference and a recommended calendar for viewing the talks and questions for discussing them.
In the document, the SAAG and ERLC say, “This is not the end of our work on this subject, but only the beginning. We will continue to advance this important work, supported by Southern Baptists because we must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us.”
Travis Wussow, ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy, said in a written statement, “Through our work over the last two years, we recognize that while we have taken important steps forward, there is much left to be done. As Southern Baptists, we must continue to push forward in order to prevent the pain and devastation abuse creates and to help those who have experienced abuse find healing through the power of the Gospel.
“Over the next year, the ERLC, in partnership with the advisory group, will continue our efforts to prepare churches, promote convention-wide action and protect the vulnerable through public policy advocacy,” he said.
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear established the SAAG shortly after his 2018 election. In cooperation with the ERLC, the group of experts in a variety of fields received input from hundreds of people, including abuse survivors and their advocates, law enforcement officials, counselors, pastors, denominational leaders and lawyers.
Other resources already produced by the SAAG and ERLC include:
- “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused,” a comprehensive training curriculum.
- “The Introductory Guide to Caring Well: A Resource to Help Churches Care Well for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Implement Policies and Procedures to Prevent Abuse.”
- A Spanish version of the handbook for “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused.”
- The “Caring Well Hiring Guide,” which was released in August.
- Various articles during the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions regarding such topics as domestic abuse, Internet safety and pornography.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)